WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures during a news
conference at the Ecuadorian embassy in central London.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has spent over two
years in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid a sex crimes inquiry
in Sweden, says he plans to leave the building "soon", but
Britain has signalled it will still arrest him if he tries.
Assange made the surprise assertion during a news conference
alongside Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino. But his
spokesman played down the chances of an imminent departure,
saying the British government would first need to revise its
position and let him leave without arrest, something it has
repeatedly refused to do.
The 43-year-old Australian fled to the embassy in June 2012
to avoid extradition for questioning in Sweden over sex
assault and rape allegations, which he denies.
He says he fears that if extradited to Sweden he would then
be handed over to the United States, where he could be tried
for one of the largest information leaks in U.S. history.
Assange would be arrested if he exited the London embassy
because he has breached his British bail terms.
"I am leaving the embassy soon ... but perhaps not for the
reasons that Murdoch press and Sky news are saying at the
moment," Assange told reporters at the embassy in central
Britain's Sky News, part owned by Rupert Murdoch's 21st
Century Fox, had earlier reported that Assange was
considering leaving the embassy due to deteriorating health.
'CALL OFF THE SIEGE'
WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of confidential U.S.
documents on the Internet in 2010. That embarrassed the
United States, and some critics say it put national security
and people's lives at risk.
Ecuador later granted Assange political asylum. But he was
unable to leave Britain and has ended up living in the
embassy's cramped quarters in central London.
His comments briefly raised the possibility of his leaving
imminently. But Kristinn Hrafnsson, his spokesman, told
reporters that he could only do so if the British government
"calls off the siege outside". Assange had no intention of
handing himself over to the police, he added.
Ecuador's Patino said he would try to hold talks with his
British counterpart to resolve the case. Recent changes to
British extradition laws may mean Assange would not be facing
extradition if his case had just started.
Britain's Foreign Office said it remained as committed as
ever to reaching a diplomatic solution to the problem, but
reiterated that Assange still needed to be extradited.
"As ever we look to Ecuador to help bring this difficult, and
costly, situation to an end," a spokeswoman said.
The Assange issue has put Britain and Ecuador at odds, with
London angered by the decision of Ecuador's socialist
President Rafael Correa to grant him asylum and Quito unhappy
at the British refusal to allow him safe passage.
Asked about his health, Assange said anyone would be affected
by spending two years in a building with no outside areas or
direct sunlight, a complaint he has made several times